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Pubs, travel and masks: The freedoms we may NEVER get back after Covid-19

For the past 18 months Australians have endured onerous government restrictions imposed on their lives in the name of fighting Covid.

Basic activities once considered the birthright of every Australian such as going to work or school and spending time with family have been banned during the pandemic as governments pursued the ultimately impossible goal of stamping out the virus. 

Australia was alone among democratic nations in preventing people from leaving the country and imposed caps and mandatory (and expensive) quarantine for returning citizens – while states have used public health laws to impose intrusive QR codes, mask wearing, psychologically devastating isolation and business-crippling lockdowns.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews even proposed letting ordinary residents arrest fellow citizens if they suspected they may breach public health orders – but that extraordinary power was rejected by the state parliament.

Now, as the nation’s initially sluggish vaccine rollout heads toward 80 per cent of the population double-jabbed, the two most populous states – NSW and Victoria – have released roadmaps to freedom; tacitly acknowledging that using the force of the state to hold back a virus is futile, and instead putting the onus on individuals to protect themselves.

But with no likelihood of Covid being eliminated, and with borders being re-opened to potential carriers, public health experts believe governments could – and perhaps should – retain some restrictions indefinitely.

So which of our freedoms will still be curtailed and which rights will we get back in 2022?

Drinking in packed pubs 

In a paper published earlier this month titled 2022 Will Be Better, experts at the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health said density requirements for indoor venues will be needed for years to come.

Once 80 per cent of adults are double vaccinated, Victorian pubs, restaurants and cafes can finally open but only for seated service and with no standing around the bar.

There will be caps of 150 people inside and 500 outdoors – and non-vaccinated residents will still be banned.

Celebrations for Anzac Day in The Rocks, Sydney in April this year. Pubs were packed because there was no Covid outbreak

In NSW, hospitality venues will have to follow strict rules which require four square metres of space per person and a 20-person cap on bookings – but standing up to drink will be allowed.

Density rules will still be in place even after December 1 when NSW enters the third stage of its roadmap, although the requirement will be reduced to two square metres except for nightclubs where the four square metre rule will still apply.

Professor Tony Blakely, who co-authored the 2022 Will Be Better report, told Daily Mail Australia that density rules and other restrictions will be needed for years.

‘There’s no way that we can stop all our public health and social measures – things like going to into the office less often, using masks on public transport and having density limits indoors,’ he said.

‘Things like that take the heat out of the virus so it doesn’t spread like crazy and we don’t have to throw our whole society back into lockdown.’

Wearing masks 

In Victoria masks will still be required indoors in public venues such as shopping malls, even  after the 80 per cent vaccination threshold is passed.

The same rule will apply in NSW until December 1 when masks will only be needed while travelling on public transport, on planes and at airports, and for front-of-house hospitality workers.

The 2022 Will Be Better report recommends not just retaining mask use next year but increasing it as a way to prevent a return to lockdowns.

‘One simple policy innovation is to more widely mandate widespread mask wearing,’ the report says. 

Professor Blakely said masks would be an important part of the ‘mix’ of restrictions required into the future.

In NSW after December 1 masks will be needed while travelling on public transport, on planes (pictured) and at airports, and for front-of-house hospitality workers

In NSW after December 1 masks will be needed while travelling on public transport, on planes (pictured) and at airports, and for front-of-house hospitality workers

‘The trick now is not to think about one thing at a time – such as restaurants, masks and schools – but to think about everything together. 

‘It’s total mix that makes the difference because each little thing changes the reproductive rate of the virus,’ he said.

‘The trick is to make our toolkit as expansive as possible, with as many tools in it so we can pick and choose to make life as good as we can for us, for whatever vaccination coverage we’re at.’

Professor Blakely said the need for extra restrictions will be shown around Easter time in 2022 when the vaccine protection instilled in those who got the jab in winter this year is beginning to decline.

‘In Easter next year we’re going to really notice waning vaccine immunity and we’re not going to be able to boost all our population by then,’ he said.

‘So we’re going to need extra tools to pull out around Easter next year.’

Bans for the unvaccinated 

Both Victoria and NSW have mandated vaccines for workers in jobs such as construction, teaching and aged care.

Qantas has declared that not only will its staff need to be vaccinated but also passengers travelling internationally will have to prove they’ve had two doses.

In NSW only fully vaccinated people will be released from lockdown on October 11 but the non-vaccinated will be able to enter pubs, restaurants and shops and enjoy home gatherings from December 1.

But in Victoria Mr Andrews has vowed to keep vaccine mandates in place for hospitality venues, personal care services, weddings and funerals for long as [he] possibly can’.

Those bans are likely to be effective in pushing up vaccination rates, but ignored the fact that the jabbed and unjabbed alike can both still contract and spread the virus. 

Opposition frontbencher James Newbury said concern was growing that unvaccinated people would have their rights severely curtailed for a long time.

‘Within weeks, you can only get married in Victoria if you have been vaccinated. 

‘And, alarmingly, you can only commemorate a loved one at a funeral if you have got the jab,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.

Mr Newbury described the roadmap as ‘more of a roadblock’ and said: ‘It’s utter lunacy’ to keep tough restrictions in place for so long. 

Mandatory isolation

Under state public health orders, governments have the power to require an infected person or a close contact to self-isolate for 14 days.

Neither NSW or Victoria have formally announced any plans to scale back their test, trace and isolate regimes – although NSW is poised to remove or reduce isolation requirements for close contacts. 

A relaxation of that requirement for contacts to undergo long spells in isolation even if they test negative would prevent huge staff shortages in hospitals and other workplaces. 

Under state public health orders, governments have the power to require an infected person or a close contact to self-isolate for 14 days. Pictured: A locked-down apartment block in Blacktown, south-western Sydney in July

Under state public health orders, governments have the power to require an infected person or a close contact to self-isolate for 14 days. Pictured: A locked-down apartment block in Blacktown, south-western Sydney in July

From November 1 the testing regime around Australia will be boosted by the widespread rollout of rapid antigen tests which can be done at home.

The 20-minute tests involve putting a bodily sample such as a throat swab onto a treated strip which shows whether Covid is present with a marker or colour – a bit like a pregnancy test. 

The 2022 Will Be Better report says mass rapid antigen testing – which has been used in the UK and US since last year – can significantly boost Covid surveillance and reduce community infections. 

There is no likelihood of any change to the requirement for a positive case to isolate.    

Privacy

Before she resigned, NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian declared the QR code check-in system – which tracks people’s visits to every commercial premises – will remain ‘as long as Covid’s around’, so it could effectively become permanent.

That defied the advice of even her own Customer Services Minister Victor Dominello, who said ‘notwithstanding that these are my babies, I will be the first to turn them off’. 

State governments will also be granted access to people’s immunisation records which are held by the Federal Government.

Ms Berejiklian has said Mr Dominello is ‘busily working with the Commonwealth’ to access the data so it can be integrated into the Service NSW app.

This would allow businesses to see a customer’s vaccination status when they check in to a venue. 

Home quarantine will also impinge on residents’ privacy because it uses an app that requires a traveller to send the government a selfie when prompted to prove they are at home.

Ms Berejiklian admitted: ‘It might come down to if you’re prepared to give up a little bit of privacy, you can then quarantine at home.’

Travel 

Australians have been banned from going overseas since March 18, 2020 due to repeated extensions of the human biosecurity emergency period under the Biosecurity Act 2015.

Scott Morrison has announced Aussies will be able to travel overseas next month once their states surpass 80 per cent double dose vaccination coverage – with NSW on track to be the first to hit that milestone. 

Vaccinated travellers will be able to quarantine at home for seven days upon their return while quarantine-free travel may also be set up for certain countries such as New Zealand.

Unvaccinated Australians will still have to complete the mandatory 14-day quarantine stint in hotels or designated facilities upon their return. 

But there will still be restrictions in place including mandatory quarantine for people entering Australia from areas deemed ‘high risk’ and mandatory testing for unvaccinated arrivals.  

Australians have been banned from going overseas since March 18, 2020 due to repeated extensions of the human biosecurity emergency period under the Biosecurity Act 2015. Pictured: Travellers arriving in Sydney in July

Australians have been banned from going overseas since March 18, 2020 due to repeated extensions of the human biosecurity emergency period under the Biosecurity Act 2015. Pictured: Travellers arriving in Sydney in July

The national plan – which was agreed to by all states and territories in August – says that fully vaccinated travellers will be exempt from all state border restrictions once the 80 per cent jab rate is reached.

But ultra-cautious premiers in Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania have threatened to ignore that plan as they attempt to keep up their elimination strategy.

WA leader Mark McGowan has even said his border may not open until Easter. 

Restrictions required for ‘at least two years’ 

Asked if Australia will ever get back to life before Covid again, Professor Blakely told Daily Mail Australia: ‘I can confidently say the next two years will not be back to normal.’ 

He said the UK approach of simply removing almost all restrictions was not plausible in Australia for two reasons.

Firstly, Australians would not be willing to accept the level of illness and death that would bring. The UK  – which has roughly 2.5 times Australia’s population – had 3,887 Covid deaths in the four weeks to September 29 whereas Australia had 267 in the same period.

‘We haven’t quite got the stomach for it yet,’ he said.  

Secondly, removing restrictions would be more risky in Australia because an estimated 95 per cent of the UK adult population has boosted immunity either through antibodies from having had the virus or from vaccination.

Australia, in a downside from its relatively low exposure to the virus, has a far lower percentage of people who have immunity due to previously having had Covid. 

‘They’ve got a head start on us because they let the virus wash through so they’re natural infection gives them extra immunity. We don’t have that yet. 

‘For the level of hospitalisation and death Australia will tolerate in the next year we’re not going to get to herd immunity.’ 

Asked if Australia will ever get back to life before Covid again, Professor Blakely told Daily Mail Australia: 'I can confidently say the next two years will not be back to normal.' Pictured: Police and health workers at a locked-down apartment in Blacktown, south-western Sydney in July

Asked if Australia will ever get back to life before Covid again, Professor Blakely told Daily Mail Australia: ‘I can confidently say the next two years will not be back to normal.’ Pictured: Police and health workers at a locked-down apartment in Blacktown, south-western Sydney in July

Professor Blakely said herd immunity – the point at which the disease stops spreading – could be reached if more people are infected or better vaccines are produced. 

Pfizer’s vaccine reduces the chance of infection by 80 per cent but that’s not enough when so few people have got natural immunity from catching the virus, he said.  

If herd immunity is not achievable then Covid-19 will become endemic, meaning it would be a constant among the population like flu.

The power of chief health officers 

The Covid-19 pandemic has put extraordinary power in the hands of chief health officers around the country – and there is no sign of this changing soon.

Once a role of low public visibility, state CHOs like Victoria’s Brett Sutton, NSW’s Kerry Chant, Queensland’s Jeannette Young and South Australia’s Nicola Spurrier have become household names after appearing in daily press conferences broadcast nationwide.

These unelected officials have wielded unprecedented amounts of power through the pandemic, as state premiers enacted almost all their recommendations – unleavened by concerns for the economy or personal liberties – and passed the buck onto ‘health advice’. 

A stark example emerged in September last year when a 26-year-old woman was blocked from entering Queensland to say goodbye to her dying father and Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said: ‘Let me make it very clear, I don’t make these decisions.’

Victoria's Brett Sutton, NSW's Kerry Chant and Queensland's Jeannette Young (pictured) have become household names after appearing in daily press conferences broadcast on national television

Victoria’s Brett Sutton, NSW’s Kerry Chant and Queensland’s Jeannette Young (pictured) have become household names after appearing in daily press conferences broadcast on national television

The CHOs were even more visible after Victoria and NSW suspended Parliament during lockdowns, meaning press conferences became the only way to scrutinise governments. 

They even ranked fourth in the AFR Magazine’s annual Power issue – the first time any chief health officers had made the cut. Tellingly, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was beaten to top spot by the state premiers.

Daniel Wild, Director of Research at the pro-free markets think-tank the Institute of Public Affairs, told Daily Mail Australia that now we are shifting toward living with the virus, power must be restored to the people via elected officials, and the vast powers of bureaucrats like the CHOs must be curtailed.

‘All governments must commit to fully restoring the freedoms of all Australians and to return to the normal operation of parliament and democracy.

‘The mandates must end. The lockdowns must end. And the social and economic recovery must begin,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.

‘I am confident that all of our freedoms, which we enjoy by our birthright, will be restored because Australians have had enough of living in an authoritarian police-state and want their lives back.

‘While I would never encourage any Australian to ever break the law, each of us must ask ourselves how much longer we are going to go along with these brutal and dehumanising restrictions on our lives.’

What are the four phases of opening up? 

A. Vaccinate, prepare and pilot (from July 14)

Arrival caps cut in half to 3,035 a week; early, stringent and short lockdowns if outbreaks occur; trials of seven-day home quarantine for vaccinated arrivals in South Australia; medicare vaccination certificates available on apps like apple wallet   

B. Post vaccination phase (when 70 per cent are jabbed, expected late this year)

Lockdowns less likely but possible’; vaccinated people face reduced restrictions; caps for unvaccinated arrivals increased; a larger cap for vaccinated arrivals with ‘reduced quarantine requirements’; capped entry for students and economic visa holders  

C. Consolidation phase (when 80 per cent are jabbed, time not announced)

Lifting all restrictions for outbound travel for vaccinated travellers; no caps for vaccinated arrivals; increased caps for students and visa holders; more travel bubbles being set up with countries such as Singapore; booster shots rolled out 

D. Final phase (percentage or time not announced)

Uncapped arrivals for vaccinated people without any quarantine and uncapped arrivals for unvaccinated people with testing before departure and on arrival 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk